Indian SMBs – On The Road To Recovery From COVID-19

by Sameer Garde, President, Cisco India and SAARC, Cisco; Praveen Bhadada, Managing Partner – Digital, Zinnov; Mohit Gupta, Engagement Manager, Zinnov

Impact of COVID-19 on Indian SMBs

Sudha has run a self-service eatery in Malleshwaram, Bangalore, for the last 12 years. She employs two cooks, three cleaners, and one maid to wash the dishes. Four of them are migrant workers. But her business was hit hard when the country went into a lockdown due to COVID-19. With supply chains disrupted, she was faced with confusion about keeping the eatery open, fears about contracting/spreading the virus, worry about extending her financial runway to keep the eatery afloat, and uncertainties about fulfilling the online orders, with her employees moving back to their villages. With no clear end in sight, will Sudha and her eatery survive the ongoing COVID-19 situation?

Impact of COVID-19 on Indian SMBs

Sudha’s eatery is only one of nearly 75Mn SMBs (Small Medium Businesses) currently operational in India, that are one of the cornerstones in the country’s economy, contributing upwards of 30% to the country’s GDP and employing 130Mn+ people.

India’s 75Mn SMBs contribute upwards of 30% to the country’s GDP and employ 130Mn+ people.

However, the ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19 has affected millions of small businesses as production, distribution, and consumption have taken a massive hit. With SMBs facing a severe liquidity crunch and their inability to retain migrant workers, the situation has created a domino effect across the sector, jeopardizing their very survival.

Indian SMBs - What is at stake during COVID-19?

While the hope is that the ongoing COVID-19 situation eases and probably ends in the next few months, without mitigating steps to cushion the blow, the SMB sector is in survival mode. Hence, it is critical to outline and deploy strategies that could help get the SMB sector back on its feet in the near to medium term.

The State of SMBs across Verticals

The nearly 75Mn SMBs can be split across three major verticals – Manufacturing (~15M), Retail & Wholesale Trade (~30 Mn), and Services (~30Mn).

All three verticals have been hit hard by COVID-19, but Manufacturing has taken the brunt of it, with plants and factories across the country shut down (if they do not manufacture essential goods). Since a majority of these are small, contract manufacturers or suppliers for larger OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), they have witnessed significant demand vaporization. Retail, on the other hand, is witnessing a surge in demand across groceries, personal care items, and pharmaceuticals. While people are stocking up on essentials, thereby driving the demand up in retail, it is likely to slow down over the next 2-4 weeks, however. In fact, the profitability of most retail businesses for FY20-21 is under threat. In the Services vertical, Healthcare has been the least hit, with Travel & Hospitality taking the brunt of the lockdown. At the most, businesses in this vertical will be affected for the next 3-4 months, with many companies’ margins in the negative for FY20-21.

Across these verticals, some of the challenges that SMBs are facing include –

  • Government restrictions and lockdown
  • Low liquidity and purchasing power
  • Recurring fixed costs (rentals, taxes, utility bills, high interest rates, employee salaries)
  • Uncertain/Vaporized demand
  • Reduced customer footfall
  • Managing migrant workers
  • Workers’ safety
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Limited access to e-commerce platforms

To mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and ensure the survival of the SMB sector, it is critical for the Government, the SMBs, and the technology companies to work together to formulate concrete strategies and deploy them. All three stakeholders in the SMB sector need to prioritize spurring consumer spending, which acts as an engine of economic activity and growth. However, with fears of a recession looming, this needs sensitivity and care in its approach to adopt and implement.

The Government should have the SMBs’ Back

The Government’s top focus in helping the SMB sector to get back on its feet should be through specific policies and programs aimed at increasing disposable income in the hands of rural and low-income consumer groups. Additionally, the Government should also look at leveraging its existing infrastructure and logistical assets to help SMBs reach more customers.

What the Government can do to mitigate the impact of COVID-19

Manufacturing: One of the biggest challenges that SMBs are facing is supply chain disruption, for which the Government should reduce the dependence on China by sourcing raw materials locally and/or from minimally affected nations. Besides that, enabling local subsidized warehouses for micro manufacturers and opening up the logistics network in a phased and controlled manner will go a long way in easing the stress that the Manufacturing SMBs are facing. Further, the Government should look into incentivizing technology start-ups working specifically in the areas of IOT (products for connected factories), AR/VR (worker training), drones (logistics, supply chain), etc., that will enable manufacturers to get back on their feet once the lockdown eases.

Retail: Retail SMBs who face liquidity crunch require government help to access loans at cheaper rates enabled through easy loan disbursal. Creating a common online Government e-Marketing place for B2B and B2C SMBs will go a long way in helping these businesses stay afloat. The Government can also provide regulatory support to SMBs for e-commerce by fixing commissions charged by online apps.

The Government should incentivize technology start-ups working with SMBs, create access to loans at cheaper rates, and enforce stricter work from home policy.

Services: 50% rebates on Property tax, relaxation and/or tax waivers for highly impacted sectors such as Travel & Hospitality, access to subsidized tech solutions to help Services SMBs to set up digital presence – figure on top. Additionally, a Government-mandated, stricter work from home policy for at least 50% of the service workers will enable Services SMBs to ensure business continuity while taking care of workers’ safety.

While the Government might not be able to relook at all policies and programs, even implementing some of these recommendations will help ease the burden on the SMB sector significantly.

SMBs – To go digital or not, is no longer the question!

Mitigating the worst of the COVID-19 impact depends on the SMBs’ willingness to disrupt themselves, and those who do will emerge stronger on the other side.

What the SMBs can do to mitigate the impact of COVID-19

To successfully navigate the current turbulent seas, the SMBs need to –

Manufacturing

  • reduce non-critical expenditure by renegotiating facilities rentals, and deferring payments to conserve cash,
  • work with industry associations to inculcate best practices and peer learnings,
  • diversify the portfolio by producing essential goods,
  • cash-rich manufacturers to look at purchasing distressed factories, equipment, and other assets,
  • adopt digital technologies such as Cloud, IOT, Automation, etc., to enhance resilience and future-proof the business.

Retail

  • engage with hyper-local and micro-manufacturers to hedge against production slowdown of large manufacturers,
  • focus on enhancing customer experience and service by incentivizing loyal customers with custom offers and promotions,
  • engage with industry associations to extend peer learnings and best practices,
  • explore e-commerce as a sales platform through strong digital presence and digital discoverability,
  • consider automating repetitive and manual-intensive processes by leveraging digital technologies.

Services

  • identify newer revenue streams through strategic pivots into adjacent business aspects like hotels converted to patient care centers, schools to enable virtual classes, etc.,
  • enhance customer service and experience through regular updates and communique, which will be the most significant differentiator,
  • embrace digital technologies to facilitate discoverability through online presence and digital storefronts, opening digital communication channels to keep customers updated, and leveraging Automation, IOT, Cloud, etc., to increase efficiency and lower costs.

The SMBs should diversify portfolio into producing essential goods, explore e-commerce as a sales platform, and enhance customer service and experience.

Among all these, the biggest impact will be from digital tech adoption. SMBs that digitize their supply chains will be better prepared to manage unexpected and unforeseen disruptions. However, digital adoption and implementation needs to be done in phases, with investments – both time and capital – channelized in the right way.

Technology Companies can throw SMBs a life jacket

Technology companies can play a pivotal role in enabling SMBs to embrace digital technologies in these uncertain times.

What the Technology Companies can do to mitigate the impact of COVID-19

Manufacturing: From providing SMB credits to purchase technology through easy credit options like EMIs, Freemium, pay-as-you-go, etc., to tracking migrant workers as well as shipments, to monitoring assets through IOT-enabled solutions, and enabling collaboration and data security solutions, technology companies can empower Manufacturing SMBs in alleviating the worst of the COVID-19 impact.

Retail: Technology companies need to enable contactless payment and contactless delivery through app-based solutions and payment gateways. With high demand fluctuation, leveraging Data Analytics to enable SMBs to target the right customers, will be key. Further, digitization of inventory and building digital interfaces and digital storefronts to enhance customer engagement will prove beneficial for retail SMBs in the near to medium term.

The Technology Companies should provide SMB credits for tech purchase, leverage Data Analytics to reach the right customers, and help build digital interfaces.

Services: The need to enable secure remote working wherever possible, by leveraging collaboration tools and security solutions will be critical in ensuring business continuity for several Services SMBs. To enhance customer engagement and awareness, SMBs need to partner with technology companies to build digital interfaces and conduct online events, workshops, webinars, and working sessions that aim to train, skill, and reskill. Another avenue that SMBs can explore is leveraging Automation for horizontal processes like Finance & Accounting (F&A), HR, Marketing, etc.

While COVID-19 can potentially accelerate digital tech adoption in the SMB sector, technology companies will be instrumental for SMBs to ride out the current storm and emerge stronger on the other side.

What next for the SMBs?

While strategies like conserving cash and portfolio diversification will help SMBs to stay afloat in the near term, strategic Government initiatives and interventions, along with key partnerships with technology companies, will ensure that the SMB sector gets back on its feet sooner than it would without them. Further, digital tech adoption will also extend SMBs’ capabilities to provide superior customer experience and service, while it also increases efficiency by lowering costs and increasing savings.

Impact of COVID-19 on Indian SMBs

The impact of COVID-19 on Indian SMBs due to the lockdown has been tremendous. To understand this impact and how the SMBs, the Government, and Tech Providers can collaborate to tackle and overcome the challenges, write to us at info@zinnov.com.

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The Impact Of COVID-19 On Indian SMBs - On The Road To Recovery
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The Impact Of COVID-19 On Indian SMBs - On The Road To Recovery
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The impact of COVID-19 on Indian SMBs due to the lockdown has been tremendous. But concerted efforts from all stakeholders will help get SMBs back on their feet.
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